EWB and Honduras in Technicolor

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Dominican Republic in Technicolor

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Third World Architecture: Case Study II

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Again in Design Like You Give a Damn I found myself another excellent case study to compliment the Emergency Tents. This one I had seen before both in class and mentioned in other places, but Design Like You Give a Damn gave me a more comprehensive look.

So, in 2002, the Chile-Barrio Program created a new plan to house low-income families who were living illegally in parts of Iquique, Chile. The Chile-Barrio Program is a branch of the Regional Government of Tarapaca that works to upgrade Chile’s illegal housing problems. They hired the interdisciplinary design team Taller de Chile, which is a great firm that is made of architects, engineers, contractors, and politicians from the Universidad Catolica de Chile. The project was named the Quinta Monroy Housing Project, and the team was given a budget of $7,500 per one family house (including the cost of land). The most important goal of Taller de Chile was to build houses that could easily be added to in the future by the residents. The group also focused on the site itself and making sure that the project could be replicated in the future by the government.

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Third World Architecture: Case Study I

In Chad, in response to the Darfur crisis, a new project designed by Ghassem Fardanesh was first tested in the field. Plain white tents, arranged in a long grid, covered the desert where a refugee camp was set up. Although it may not have looked especially revolutionary or innovative, these tents were actually the result of a long process of design and development that was a blessing to the refugees and to UNHCR. Inventively called the “Lightweight Emergency Tent,” these tents were designed to replace the old canvas tents that had been used for over 20 years. Made of synthetic plastic and designed ergonomically to meet the needs of both the refugees and UNHCR, I think these tents provide an excellent first case study to study the economic, social, and material challenges of designing for the developing world and, in particular, for disaster relief.

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Structures 2: Tectonics

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This project was an short investigation inspired by a project done in our Tectonics class to create a structure out of a single sheet of paper that was supported on only three points without cutting or ripping the paper. On this project, I worked with fellow architecture student and friend, Amy Vu. In class, we built an angular triangular structure (image attached) that looked like what would happen if Calatrava designed a Native American Tipi. Jumping off from this point, we were interested in purifying the form and simplifying the structure, since we had to fudge parts to compensate for the rectangular shape of a piece of paper. We were also were careful to keep a practical, real-world mindset through our development. We wanted the result to be something that could be built and assembled simply.

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Third World Architecture: Part II

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After thinking a lot about my last post on third world architecture, I wanted to write up some examples that can argue better than I could:

Darfur is home to over two and a half million homeless people, which is staggering when you think about it. In one refugee camp, I found a group that designed a pretty amazing and creative solution that helped thousands of refugees. The government would not allow any permanent structures to be built in the camp, so the group BOLD (Building Opportunities & Livelihoods in Darfur) found a different solution that could address multiple problems at once. They started a program that employed over 3,000 refugees in one camp (where grass was plentiful) to weave grass mats that were then sold for a small profit to a camp in North Darfur (where grass was not readily available).  These mats were then used with bamboo stakes to construct shelters for the refugees.  This program was made possible by understanding all of the material, economic, and social variables that existed and by designing a solution taking all of these variables into account.

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Third World Architecture: Part I

A simple Google search would tell you that more than 100 million people in this world are homeless. With a little more digging, you could find that close to 1 billion people (close to 1 in 7) lack suitable housing. And with just a little more digging, you could start to find people who are working to change that number.  There are tons of non-profit groups, government organizations, and individuals from around the world struggle to develop new ways of housing the homeless. But what about architects? I hear the word “housing” and expect to see it followed by “architect.” But in discussions of the developing world, it rarely is.

At first glance, architects may not seem like the right choice to solve this problem. Don’t architects only build fancy buildings that have no real relevance to the third world? The third world does not need skyscrapers. Why is it not the engineers who are building houses? After all, they are the ones who have the structural and material understanding that the developing world needs. They know how to build a house, and they can build it efficiently and economically. So why architects?

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Zarathustra meets Architecture

There are many ways of categorizing architectural styles. One way is to use a spectrum on which one end there lies a kind governed by logic; one that is practical, realistic, engineering, systematic, sustainable. On the other lies one of emotion; the abstract, artistic, sublime. In our society, most architecture contains both to varying degrees. But it is important to remember that beauty is not found in the combination of both, but in the relative balance of the two.

I argue to all architecture students to be careful when they design. We are always told by society to “step outside the box.” The goal is always to be innovative and forward-thinking. But when the student asks about innovation, he or she is pointed to the starchitects; to an iconic, superficial architecture dominated by fluff.  To the layperson, “outside the box” is defined as flashy, rendered innovation with expensive materials and a stress of form over detail, of quantity over quality, breadth over depth. It is a box that is defined and governed by values found in our modern society. It is a box where speed, efficiency, and money are valued above emotion, beauty, and art.

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Italy in Technicolor

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Here are a few unedited color photos chosen out of thousands from my semester in Italy last year. My post yesterday was in part inspired by my browsing through these photos. I am not a great photographer, but I do try to dabble occasionally. Of course, the best part of photography is working to improve, and luckily for me, I have a long way to go.

Photography

Photography is a very different medium than most others.  It is produced almost entirely by the efforts of technology, with the user only taking part in manipulation.  It engages a much different skill set than many other traditional forms.  And, perhaps because of their technological roots, photos represent the world we live in a very calculated and objective way.  Because of this close relationship to physical reality, one would think that art would be cast aside.  But that is far from the truth.

Art is found through photography in the way the photographer manipulates the photo.  Art exists in photography through subtlety.  And as often happens in art, this subtlety rests on a knife’s edge of abstraction and precision.  But the irony is often that good photography is at odds with the very essence of photography itself.  Good photography is not objective.  Good photography is subjective, as is all art.  Not necessarily a provocative kind of subjectivity, but rather a natural subjectivity.  The kind that speaks.  In a way, it is this juxtaposition of a very objective medium and a very subjective photographer that can produce good photography.

For me, this is the beauty of photography.  It is the beauty of art itself.  It is its essence.  It is what I struggle with, obsess over, and dream about.  But of course it is worth it because in the end you have produced something that has a part of you in it, and there is not much that I find more satisfying than that.

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